Feb 11, 2014, 12:24 PM EDT
When the CAA Football crew asked me to write a post on 2014 National Signing Day, of course I jumped at the opportunity. Ever since the crew and I left Frisco, Texas, following the national title game, I’ve been suffering serious FCS withdrawal. Simply put, I miss it.
In my opinion, Signing Day is always tough because I find myself getting a lot more excited than I probably should be, knowing that most of the incoming freshmen have to prove anything on the collegiate playing field.
At this point, it’s hard to know who will become the next Terrance West or Stephon Robertson, headlining the future of CAA Football. It’s a lot easier to look back at these classes down the road. This being said, while I’m admittedly no Mel Kiper or Todd McShay by any stretch, here’s my two cents on last week’s #CAAFB #NSD14.
Before breaking down the classes, though, I’d like to point out the great job by my colleagues – Zach Burrus and Scott Meyer – for staying up-to-date and on top of each school around the league and its classes. The Signing Day Central page was a huge help and great indicator for fans to check out their favorite teams’ new recruits.
UAlbany: Plenty of people wondered what type of recruiting class new head coach Greg Gattuso would bring in after replacing the legendary Bob Ford at the helm of the Great Danes’ program. I think it’s safe to say that upon first glance, Gattuso did a solid job of putting together a class comprised of 22 total student-athletes – 20 high school, two transfers. It’s a fairly equal group overall in terms of offensive versus defensive players. It’s also obvious that Gattuso still has deep connections around the Mid-Atlantic region. After all, he came to UAlbany from FBS Maryland after clearly making his presence felt in the area. Pennsylvania and Maryland each produced six future Great Danes. Interestingly, transfer lineman Mike Madaras played for two years under Gattuso during his tenure with the Terps and his younger brother Sam is also part of this year’s class.
Delaware: Along with the Danes, the Blue Hens had the largest recruiting class in CAA Football this year, inking a total of 22 high school standouts. Coach Dave Brock’s 2013 team barely missed the FCS Playoffs, losing three straight games to end the regular season, but finished with a 7-5 mark overall. This was Brock’s first true recruiting class following his January 2013 hire that left him with with a very short window to solidify last year’s class. UD really stayed close to home with this class, not venturing farther than the state of New York to find its future impact players, while hauling in players from Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania as well. Also of note is the fact that the Blue Hens signed just two players listed below six feet tall, seemingly looking to target size and depth for both of their trench units – the offensive and defensive lines. It will be very interesting to see how the future pans out in this respect. As a side note, I was impressed by UD’s use of Instagram in which the program posted 15-second clips of its signees rather than full highlight tapes.
Elon: Led by first-year head coach Rich Skrosky, CAA Football’s newest member decided to keep its 2014 recruiting class manageable. The Phoenix signed a total of 13 players, including a pair of former FBS products – a DB from Ball State and a DL from Rutgers. While Skrosky is known for having a unique offensive mind (finding plenty of success at Ball State), Elon signed 10 defensive players versus just three on the offensive side of the ball. Seven members of this class hail from the state of North Carolina, which should help the Phoenix maintain a local flair as they transition to a new league that spans up the East Coast.
James Madison: There’s a new sense of excitement in Harrisonburg after the Dukes changed things up with the hiring of Everett Withers, who replaces longtime head coach Mickey Matthews at the helm of the program. Withers’ first recruiting class of 14 players wasn’t too sizable, but it looks to have a strong sense of direction. Two QBs in the class have already enrolled at JMU, including a Georgia Tech transfer in Vad Lee who could easily considered an offensive athlete versus a signal caller. Six players in the class come from JMU’s bread and butter – its home state of Virginia – while South Carolina and North Carolina are each represented by three players apiece. The new look to the staff will make spring ball that much more fun to follow.
Maine: 2013 CAA Football Champion Maine surprised many, including me, last fall when it nearly ran through the league undefeated, but still managed to claim the trophy and an FCS playoff berth outright. That’s just the way Coach of the Year Jack Cosgrove operates his program – in an effective, efficient and not overly flashy manner. That method has clearly worked just fine and is reflected in this year’s class. The Black Bears inked 16 total players, including six from the state of New Jersey, where I feel they always seem to find quality student-athletes every year. Maine’s depth shouldn’t be in question, seeing as Cosgrove and a number of others around the league aren’t afraid to develop freshmen during a redshirt season. The Black Bears need to replace First Team All-CAA Football QB Marcus Wasilewski, so having two signal callers in the class should be beneficial down the road. In fact, Augusta, Maine product Ben Lucas won the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year honor and was a big get for the class overall.
New Hampshire: The Wildcats finally broke their FCS Quarterfinal woes in 2013, reaching the semifinals before falling to eventual national champion North Dakota State. Not only was it a great leap for the program, but it seems to have paid off on the recruiting trail. Surprisingly in a state that doesn’t produce a ton of local talent each year, the ‘Cats snagged three players from the Granite State, highlighted by dual-threat QB and New Hampshire POTY Trevor Knight. UNH also signed Massachusetts POTY Neil O’Conner. The Wildcats, like rival Maine, do a fine job of finding players who are versatile and who fit well within the program as a whole. Somewhat uncharacteristically, the program went well out of its region to find players from California, Florida, Virginia and Washington this year. The late January announcement of a much-needed stadium upgrade couldn’t have come at a better time and that will only help moving forward with future classes.
Rhody: Rhody enters 2014 under the guidance of new head coach Jim Fleming, a defensive-minded specialist with experience at many levels of college football, including his last stint as D-Coordinator at Fiesta Bowl-winner Central Florida. Personally, I really like this class of 19 players – 18 of which have four years of eligibility remaining. Not surprisingly, most members of the class are defenders, while nine of those standouts come to Kingston from the state of New Jersey. Although the Rams struggled at times this past season, they freshened things up with a new HC hire and can probably offer earlier playing time for incoming freshmen compared to other schools around the conference. Boston College transfer QB Mack Lowrie and 5-foot-7 RB Harold Cooper both put up monster numbers in high school – stats that were considered historic for the sport in New England. Lowrie played in Massachusetts and passed for 5,000-plus career yards, while Cooper played in Connecticut and rushed for more than 6,000 career yards.
Richmond: The Spiders turned a poor start to 2013 into a total positive by season’s end, winning four straight games to finish 6-6 overall. Come late October, no one in the league wanted to face UR’s vaunted offensive attack. Coach Danny Rocco and his staff signed 16 future Spiders in this year’s class, staying true to the program’s proven in-state recruiting strength with eight players from Virginia. It’s a balanced class that features eight offensive, seven defensive and one special teams player. The size of the recruits is also noteworthy, as six players stand 6-foot-3 or taller, including a 6-6 OL and 6-4 WR. Two defensive players in the class – Dale Matthews and Jarriel Jordan – were teammates at Damatha Catholic High School in Maryland and are now set to play another four together at UR.
Stony Brook: The Seawolves missed the FCS Playoffs for the first times in two years this past season, but you can bet Coach Chuck Priore will have his hard-nosed crew ready to go this coming fall. Stony Brook’s 2014 class followed the program’s recent trend of going out and finding players from all corners of the country. SBU brought in a 19-player class that consists of 16 high school seniors, two FBS transfers and one junior college transfer. Seven different states are counted in this year’s crop, with four from the state of California and one each from Georgia and Texas serving to highlight the regional depth represented. Besides the large geographic reach of the group, I was also impressed that SBU was able to ink five local Long Island recruits who all earned First Team All-Long Island honors at the high school level in 2013. A surprise signee was RB and local product Stacey Bedell, who spent his first two seasons of college ball at FBS UMass. The Minutemen’s recent woes may have played a likely role in his decision to transfer.
Towson: While some might wonder if Towson’s taxing 2013 national title run hurt its chances in recruiting battles, there’s no doubt that the exposure helped the program all the more come National Signing Day last week. With the news of star RB Terrance West opting to leave early for the NFL Draft in addition to the graduation of fifth-year senior QB Peter Athens and a number of other key veterans, it’s clear the Tigers will look different offensively in 2014. Nine of the 19 players signed in this year’s class will look to fill that void, many possibly right away. The only two RBs in the class – Dontea Ayres and Greg White – are each under six feet tall, but could easily compete for playing time with reigning CAA Football Offensive Rookie of the Year Darius Victor, who played as a true freshman in 2013. Coach Rob Ambrose has quickly altered the mindset in Towson, Md., and players from the state and up and down the East Coast have taken notice. 10 players hail from either Maryland or Virginia, including Ayres, an early enrollee who transferred from Rutgers. In looking at this class as a whole, it’s clear that the FCS title game and playing on ESPN three times during the postseason have done nothing but benefit the Tigers.
Villanova: Despite a 6-5 season in which it finished above .500, 2013 was certainly a season of ups and downs for Villanova. The Wildcats, who were picked to win the league one year ago, should enter 2014 with a certain fire given that they welcome back 15 starters and plenty of experienced letterwinners. Coach Andy Talley always seems to find “his guys” no matter how small or large the recruiting class, and that looks to be no different this year. Nova signed a 14-member signing class made up of eight offensive players, seven defensive players and one kicker. On the kicking front, keep in mind that the Wildcats graduated one of CAA Football’s most consistent legs in Mark Hamilton. Thus, we should never forget about the kickers, please. Talley is also a coach who in the past has been able to develop some impactful players who redshirted their freshman year (look no further than John Robertson). So with a solid group of returning ‘Cats coupled with this smaller class, this always remains a possibility. Three DBs in this class – Malik Reaves, Rob Rolle IV and Rasaan Stewart – are all 6-0 or taller, served as team captains and were first-team honorees in their respective prep conferences. It should also be noted that Nova signed its class during a near day-long power outage on Wednesday, which is impressive in and of itself.
William & Mary: The Tribe’s defense was one of the top units in all of the FCS in 2013. It seems defense will remain key in Williamsburg for years to come, as the 2014 class features seven defenders who should all add plenty of quality depth to the program. In all, seven different states comprise W&M’s 15-member class. Two signees (ATH DeVonte Dedmon and RB Jahill Green) are Williamsburg products and highlight a list of four Virginia recruits, while five future standouts will arrive from Maryland. Injuries at the QB position have contributed to some of the Tribe’s offensive issues over the last couple of years. Jhalil Mosley, a signal caller from the 2013 class who redshirted last fall, should complement the only QB in this year’s class in Isaiah Kinder. Both will look for leadership from senior Raphael Ortiz.
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